quail in hay from bina restaurant and anvil restaurant

Boston: Bina Osteria

The smarty-pants Italophile would say Bina’s sophisticated food and flash make it a ristorante, not an osteria (literally, a bar or tavern), and il bastardo would be right. Never mind the language, though: This downtown newcomer serves some of Boston’s most exceptional food. Veteran restaurateurs, siblings Babak Bina and Azita Bina-Seibel, infuse Bina’s grand, mostly white, angular dining room with an osteria’s casual hospitality, but it’s the food of chef Brian Konefal (an Eleven Madison Park and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon NYC alum) that warms up the elegantly modern setting. Pastas—like the gnocchi (squid, clams, chorizo chips, and Meyer lemon confit) and an interpretation of spaghetti carbonara (served with a slow-cooked egg, housemade pancetta, pecorino foam, and chitarra-cut fresh pasta)—are refined and skillfully composed. And, while quail roasted on a bed of smoldering hay and herbs might sound gimmicky, it is, in fact, rustic and damn good.

Bina Osteria 581 Washington St., Boston, MA (617-956-0888; binaboston.com)

Houston: Anvil Bar & Refuge

Muddled cucumber is the secret to the murky-as-swampwater but strangely refreshing Pimm’s Cup served at Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston’s first craft cocktail bar. No doubt it’s a pre-Prohibition recipe. The drinks here include faithful recreations of Gulf Coast relics like Milk Punch, Gin Fizz, and the Sazerac; there are three varieties of housemade tonic; and the hauntingly spicy Dark and Stormy is made with house-brewed ginger beer. Snacks include assorted cheeses from Houston Dairymaids and crusty bread from down-the-street Feast. Located in a refurbished 1950s-era Firestone tire store, the bar is outfitted with old cooler doors, vintage fixtures, and mismatched cocktail glasses plucked from Montrose neighborhood antique shops. Did young mixologist Bobby Heugel (formerly of Beaver’s Icehouse) name the place “Anvil” because it brought images of craftsmanship to mind, or was it so we could make jokes about getting “hammered” there? A little of each, no doubt.

Anvil 1424 Westheimer Rd., Houston (713-523-1622; anvilhouston.com)

Lisbon: Tavares

In the unlikely surroundings of a grand Baroque dining room, José Avillez has injected a little levity into some of the old classics of Portuguese cuisine and brought vanguard cuisine to Lisbon. (He admires Ferran Adrià and was the first Portuguese chef to be invited to the prestigious foodie summit Madridfusión.) As the dishes were carried out, I imagined a kitchen crammed with syringes, beakers, and alembics. Avillez tends to sublimate hoary favorites of the national repertoire: Bacalhau à bras, known to every tourist as a hearty arrangement of codfish, egg yolk, and potatoes, was as delicately constructed as a bird’s nest. A fillet of sea bass cooked at low temperature appeared draped in samphire and assorted seaweeds garnered from the nearby coast. In Avillez’s hands even the pastel de nata, Portugal’s beloved yet stodgy custard tart, has been alchemized into a dessert of exquisite lightness on leaves of mille-feuille. The final classic on view is the restaurant itself, which has been open for more than 200 years. Wisely, Avillez has left the splendor of its glorious gilt and mirrors intact.

Restaurante Tavares Rua da Misericórdia no. 35, Lisbon (21-34-21-12; tavaresrico.pt)

New York City: Sora Lella

Lord knows there are plenty of Italian restaurants in New York; not many of them, however, are filled primarily with Italians. But when I visited Sora Lella on Spring Street recently, the room was packed with expats and visitors hungry for a taste of the classic Roman cuisine that has made the original outpost (by the same name) in Rome a celebrity-haunted hot spot for 50 years. Not all of the dishes we had were spectacular—a few of the pastas seemed strangely heavy, the famed pacherri sauce oddly bland—but most were supremely satisfying in that Roman way. Polpettine alla nonna (“grandma style” meatballs) were excellent, with nice body, just the right amount of chewiness, and deep, meaty flavor; the roasted baby lamb was very tender and just “lamb-y” enough; and, surprisingly, the one untraditional dish on the menu—a deconstructed insalata caprese consisting of mozzarella panna cotta with tomato sorbet and basil—was magnificent. Mostly, though, it was just good to be in the warm, yellow-walled room listening to the animated chatter in Italian, watching the waiters argue with each other for the privilege of taking our order, and pretending to be in Rome.

Sora Lella 300 Spring St., New York City (212-366-4749)
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